A week after Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration disclosed that revenue forecasts for next year could be deeply overstated, budget leaders Monday, June 20, appeared no closer than last week on a plan to address the gap and continued to pledge cooperation across the branches and with the administration.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, suggested the budgets produced this year by the House and Senate, both totaling roughly $39.5 billion, may require “quite a bit” of spending to be trimmed from their bottom lines.
Video: State House leaders talk budget
While it appears state leaders are working across the aisle on a potential single plan to address the problem, the plan to address the gap so far can best be characterized by what leaders hope to protect, rather than where they plan to cut.
Local aid, substance abuse prevention and early education funding would all be “very difficult to try to cut,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said.
The Baker administration and legislative leaders are swapping proposals to deal with a revenue shortfall of between $450 million and $750 million in fiscal 2017, which begins on July 1.
Baker, like DeLeo, said Monday he supports spending on opioid abuse prevention proposed in the legislative budgets, and would be reluctant to touch another big spending area: local aid for cities and towns.
“I can tell you my goal is to try to preserve predictability around local aid for cities and towns. Most of them have already voted on their budgets and have already teed up what they think next year’s supposed to look like, and I’d hate to go back and make them revisit that,” Baker said.
The governor also appeared to rule the state Medicaid program, MassHealth, off the table for cuts, despite the program accounting for nearly half of all annual state spending.
Video: Legislators on revenue shortfall, sales tax holiday
“We haven’t proposed any cuts to Medicaid eligibility as part of this,” Baker said, saying he also did not plan to recommend any reductions in covered health services.
One way the state could save money in fiscal 2017, according to the leaders, could be to forgo the annual sales tax holiday weekend in August, an annual effort to spur consumer spending by suspending the 6.25 percent sales tax for two days.
“The Senate has increasingly been skeptical about whether this is a good use of twenty, now twenty-five million dollars so we always review this issue at about this time. It’s on the table for discussion,” Rosenberg said.
DeLeo and Baker also said skipping the annual holiday, which has been used as an incentive for Bay State consumers to shop locally rather than cross the border to make large purchases in New Hampshire, should be part of the revenue discussion.
“I think in the future that may be possibly something we may have to take a look at,” DeLeo said.